LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (AP) - Arkansas prepared again Thursday to conduct its first executions since 2005, wary and tired after a series of court decisions gutted its unprecedented plan to put eight men to death before the end of the month. Johnson's attorneys requested additional DNA testing on evidence that they say could prove his innocence in the 1993 rape and killing of Carol Heath.
"The Arkansas Supreme Court in 2004 unanimously rejected an identical argument brought by Inmate Stacey Johnson, but today, by a vote of four to three, the Court has without legal explanation blocked the execution of an individual sentenced by two different juries".
Death row inmates Stacey Johnson (left) and Ledell Lee are both scheduled to be put to death Thursday, though court rulings have put those executions on hold for now.
It takes five justices, a majority of the court, to issue a stay or lift one that has been imposed in another court. The state can ask the Arkansas Supreme Court to reconsider its decision or appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, which on Monday opted not to vacate a separate stay involving inmate Davis.
The Supreme Court has the final say on nearly every execution, and the justices reject all but a few emergency appeals by inmates. Answers to death penalty queries. The Washington Post reports that he was "surprised and disappointed" by the decisions made by the Arkansas Supreme Court. Instead, the action came from a state Supreme Court that's been the focus of expensive campaigns by conservative groups to reshape the judiciary. According to a state prison official's testimony in the drug case, he "deliberately ordered the drugs previous year in a way that there wouldn't be a paper trail, relying on phone calls and text messages".
The Department of Correction had planned an earlier pair of executions Monday and similarly moved condemned inmate Don Davis to the Cummins Unit over the weekend.
The judge facing re-election, Courtney Goodson, lost her bid for chief justice previous year after conservative groups blanketed the state with ads attacking her.
An inmate set to die Thursday night is asking the Arkansas Supreme Court to block his execution so he can pursue more DNA tests in hopes of proving his innocence.
Another inmate, Ledell Lee, was scheduled for execution Thursday night and has a similar request pending for more DNA testing, though a Pulaski County judge ruled against him Tuesday.
The state filed an amended plan Monday that grants attorneys for the inmates more phone access while on prison grounds.
Lawyers for the inmates set to be executed Thursday are relying primarily on claims the men are innocent.
Arkansas' supply of a drug used in lethal injections - Midazolam - is set to expire at the end of this month. "It is inconceivable that this court, with the facts and the law well established, stays these executions over speculation that the (U.S.) Supreme Court might change the law".
Their strategy to win stays is in marked contrast to the first two inmates who faced the death chamber and were spared Monday by arguing they should not be put to death because of mental health issues. Outside groups and the candidates spent more than $1.6 million past year on a pair of high court races that were among the most fiercely fought judicial campaigns in the state's history.